Group petitions US, UK against Onochie’s nomination as INEC commissioner

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APC asks senate, others to ignore opposition

President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of his controversial aide on social media, Ms Lauretta Onochie has continued to generate angry reactions as a pro-democracy group, Concerned Nigerians, has written to the US and UK missions describing the nomination as “unconstitutional” and “unacceptable” because of the nominee’s partisanship.

This is contained in a letter to the US and UK Missions dated October 14, 2020, and signed by the convener of the group, Mr. Deji Adeyanju.

Onochie, who is special assistant on social media to the president, was among the four nominees presented to the senate for confirmation on Tuesday.

In the letter entitled ‘Nomination of Lauretta Onochie: Prevail on President Buhari not to destroy the independence of INEC,’ the group said Onochie is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and therefore asked the United States, United Kingdom, and other development partners not to allow the president destroy the nation’s democracy and the INEC’s independence by what it described as “his parochial appointment.”

“President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of his Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC Commissioner from Delta State is a reprehensible attempt to destroy the integrity and independence of Nigeria’s electoral commission.

“Lauretta Onochie is an openly partisan, card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress, Nigeria’s ruling party, who constantly attacks and denigrates critics of the ruling party.

“Her appointment is in violation of Paragraph 14 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution as amended by Section 30, Act No 1 of 2010, which stipulates that a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be non-partisan”.

The group contended that the constitutional provision prohibits a card-carrying member of a registered political party or a well-known supporter of a particular political party from being appointed as a member of the INEC.

“We appeal to you to pressure President Buhari to rescind this appoint as it is capable of reversing the gains made in our electoral processes,” it added.

Earlier, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the minority caucus in the senate had opposed Onochie’s nomination.

The minority leader, Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe said the president had contravened the constitution that he swore to defend by nominating Onochie.

“Item F, paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) forbids a card carrying member of a political party to be a member of INEC.

“The minority caucus of the senate is against this nomination and call on Mr. President to withdraw it.”

Also the part’s spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said at a press conference that, nominating a card carrying member of the APC as a national commissioner in INEC was a highly provocative assault on the nation’s constitution and democratic process.

“Indeed, from Mr. President’s public promises, one would have thought that he was desirous of leaving a legacy of credible elections, having failed in all ramifications of governance

“However, this nomination of his personal staff, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC national commissioner, supports the position of the PDP that his statements were mere glib talks on electoral sanctity and clearly demonstrates that he has no plans whatsoever to leave a legacy of credible polls.

“This ugly development is another shameful attempt to plant unscrupulous elements in INEC in order to corrupt and further desecrate the sanctity of the commission, undermine our electoral system and destabilize our democratic process ahead of the 2023 general elections.

“We had hoped that, as Mr. President had professed in the past, he is truly running his second and final term in office. If that were so, then Lauretta Onochie’s nomination as INEC national commissioner clearly points to a totally different direction.”

He said the nomination of Onochie dressed the President as having more than an interest in legacy building and portrayed him as one who had a personal candidature interest in the 2023 election.

The party said the only way to prove otherwise was to quickly withdraw her nomination before the senate.

“Moreover, being a card-carrying member of the APC as records shows (from Ward 5 Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta state), Onochie’s nomination is in clear violation of paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which forbids a person involved in partisan politics to hold office as a member of INEC.

“It is therefore surprising that having sworn to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr. President is taking actions that are antithetical to the very constitution and democratic governance.

“These actions are deliberate attempts by President Buhari to inflame social tensions, undermine our constitution and desecrate the sanctity of our electoral process, rather than finding solutions to the myriads of problems pervading our country.

“On a final note, the PDP, standing shoulder to shoulder with Nigerians, will deploy every legitimate means possible in a democracy to stop the approval of this provocative nomination of Lauretta Onochie as INEC national commissioner,” he added.

Meanwhile, the APC has asked the senate to ignore what it described as “selective criticism” against the appointment.

The party noted in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Yekini Nabena that Buhari’s appointment of Onochie as a national commissioner “has been subject to rash, subjective, misplaced and selective criticism by the PDP and some interest groups.”

“Perhaps the PDP needs to be reminded that one of its card-carrying members, Dr. Johnson Alalibo is the current Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC)”.

“Alalibo who was also a former deputy whip in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly has been an electoral asset to the PDP but that is an issue to be addressed another day,” the APC said.

It urged “the patriotic 9th Senate to stick with the facts and issues by ignoring the PDP’s grandstanding, cheap blackmail, baseless and subjective allegations of partisanship it is sponsoring against Ms Onochie.

“For the PDP, Ms Onochie’s capacity and effectiveness as a public servant and senior social media professional amount to partisanship.

“Since public service now equates ‘partisanship’ we invite the PDP to equally fault appointment of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the current INEC chairman who was the immediate-past executive secretary of the government’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) as well as the earlier stated Dr. Johnson Alalibo.

“We equally invite the PDP to query the ‘unquestionable integrity’ of brazen PDP apologists such as Festus Okoye, national commissioner and chairman, information and voter education committee of INEC; Mike Igini, Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State, among others.

“We challenge the PDP to point to any of its defunct 16-year administrations that defended and guaranteed the executive arm of government’s non-interference in INEC’s operation and the true independence of the electoral commission as President Buhari’s government has done,” it added.

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